It’s not every day that Drew Walker and Kristina and Kevin Hann get to see alpacas moving into their neighborhood. The three students sprinted down Brickyard Road last Wednesday to see if their eyes deceived them. From a truck with Arizona tags parked in front of the Phillips family’s house, Andy Coster led four alpacas out of a truck, down a ramp and onto the sidewalk.
Romeo, a fawn-colored 3-year-old alpaca and the "Alpha male" of the group, emerged from the truck along with black-furred Goliath, white-colored Frosty, and Wembley, also white-haired and the smallest of the bunch.
Each of the Phillips children present — Churchill sophomores Raquel and Marlena, senior Grant and ’05 grad Tyler (’04 grad Chelsea is at college in the University of Texas) — took hold of a tether and led an alpaca to the corral in the Phillipses’ backyard to meet Orion, an alpaca who arrived several days earlier.
Alpacas look similar to llamas, and like llamas, they are native to South America. Alpacas, which are typically around three feet tall, are smaller than llamas, which often pass four feet tall when fully grown. Llamas are usually bred as beasts of burden, while alpacas are more commonly bred for their fur, which comes in 23 different colors.
"They’re just a fantastic animal," said Coster, who raises the alpacas in Arizona and transports them to buyers around the country in his truck. In addition to their fur, alpacas act as natural lawnmowers by eating grass — beyond that, they require only a half-cup of food in the morning and a similar amount in the evening.
Another attribute interested John Phillips. "The thing that sold me is that they poop in one spot," he said.
They’re herd animals. "Once they bond together, they want to stay together as a family unit," Coster said, and the alpacas demonstrated it shortly after being led into the corral. Frosty and Orion sniffed each other, and that’s all it took before the five animals roamed the yard as a team.
Coster brought the alpacas from Kingman, Ariz. to Potomac in a truck custom-designed for alpaca transport. It had air conditioning, reinforced walls and sound cameras so Coster could keep an eye on them when the day’s driving is done. All the protective measures necessary from a humane standpoint, and they make economic sense, too — Coster said a typical alpaca sells for $25,000-$35,000, and he estimates that one haul was worth $1.5 million.
All the Phillips alpacas are male. The females tend to be prohibitively expensive — some prize specimens fetch $150,000.
The five alpacas join the Phillipses’ other miniature animals — Bennie the pot-bellied pig, and miniature horses Skittles and Snickers and their parents Glory and Hershey. The family plans to add miniature angora and rex rabbits, and Nigerian dwarf goats in upcoming months. Pending approval from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the family will start a portable petting zoo business in the upcoming spring.